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With more than 300 killed due to thunderstorms in May, government to set up research group

This year, India has seen more than its fair share of strong thunderstorms. In the month of May alone, three spells of intense thunderstorm activity have left 300 people dead

india Updated: May 31, 2018 20:53 IST
Malavika Vyawahare
Malavika Vyawahare
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Thunderstorms,India Meteorological Department,IMD
Lightning strikes over residential apartments during a thunderstorm on the outskirts of New Delhi on May 2, 2018. (AFP File Photo)

In the wake of deadly thunderstorms that have struck northwest and east India, the Union earth sciences ministry, under which the India Meteorological Department (IMD) falls, will set up an expert group on thunderstorms.

Thunderstorms are a regular feature during the pre-monsoon season in India, but a neglected subject in weather research, according to experts and officials. This year, India has seen more than its fair share of strong thunderstorms. In the month of May alone, three spells of intense thunderstorm activity have left 300 people dead.

“Thunderstorm studies in India are very rare, the people working on thunderstorms are very few,” M Rajeevan, secretary, earth sciences ministry, said. The group will consist of scientists from the ministry. The ministry plans to co-opt scholars from universities and outside experts by funding thunderstorm prediction research.

The ministry will hold a brainstorming meeting on Friday on how to improve thunderstorm prediction. “This area has been a grey area,” said JR Kulkarni, a former scientist at The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune.

“There is less interest because thunderstorms are considered localised phenomena and adequate data is not available.”

Predicting thunderstorms is difficult because they form and dissipate quickly; their life is usually two hours. However, severe thunderstorms that impact a larger area and are of higher intensity like the ones that occurred on May 2, are less frequent.

Not having data about the smaller thunderstorms makes predicting larger ones difficult too.

The need of the hour, according to experts, is issuing accurate forecasts for a localised area in time to allow people to prepare. One major step is issuing medium term block level forecasts because thunderstorms can also have severe localised effects that are not captured by district level forecasts.

The ministry is also unveiling block level prediction system. The forecasts will be based on models with a resolution of 12 by 12 km and 10km by 10 km. Unlike nowcasts, that only come a few hours in advance, these will be issued 4-5 days in advance.

“If we can warn people in the morning that there will be a thunderstorm in the evening, people can do something, they need not go to office, schools can be shut,” Rajeevan said.

Climate change is expected to fuel more extreme weather events including thunderstorms. “The prediction of extreme and severe weather events will be very crucial in the next 10-20 years,” he added.